Express-News Business Writer
Landing one of the 750 or so jobs the National Security Agency plans
to fill in San Antonio in the next few years won't be easy.
Each NSA hire will have to gain a top secret/special intelligence
security clearance, and that means proving oneself to be trustworthy,
honest, reliable, discreet and unquestionably loyal to the United
That process can be long and tedious. There are forms to fill out,
friends, family and associates that must be questioned, and a lie
detector test to pass.
"What they're looking for," said Richard Piske, vice president and
general manager of Kelly FedSecure, an agency specializing in finding
jobs for people with security clearances, "is something in your past
someone could gain access to and use against you as a means to extract
University of Texas at San Antonio graduate Thoa Vo is confident that
government investigators won't find anything like that in her life.
"I've always thought of myself as a clean-cut person," said the
26-year-old information systems major. "I don't do drugs or anything,
and I don't have anything to hide."
Vo was among the 5,000 candidates who attended the NSA's recent job
As part of its largest recruitment effort since the Cold War, the NSA
last year began a campaign to hire 7,500 people nationwide by 2008.
Hundreds of NSA employees will work at the old Sony manufacturing
plant at Loop 410 and Military Drive.
Each person who'll work there - like every NSA employee - will have to
pass a medical screening, drug test, polygraph exam, and an in-depth
background investigation going back 10 years.
"They're going to talk to your neighbors, your employers, your family,
do a very thorough evaluation of your credit history, talk to
creditors, and do a deep background screening of law enforcement
records," Piske said.
Finding people willing to withstand that type of scrutiny isn't hard.
The challenge lies in finding someone who can both carry out the job
and gain a clearance.
A top-secret clearance, one of several clearance levels, is required
for anyone who would have access to information that if disclosed
without authorization would cause grave damage to national security.
Applicants with credit problems, a history of drug use or certain
criminal convictions on their records won't be automatically rejected.
Considerations will include the nature of the incidents, the
circumstances and motivations surrounding them, the age and maturity
level at the time of the transgression and the likelihood of
Getting a clearance can take more than a year.
Someone who's lived in the same place all of his or her life, had only
a couple of jobs and whose family has been in the U.S. for at least
two generations will get through the process most quickly. For someone
who was born in a foreign country or has direct family living abroad,
it will take longer.
"At any given time there are between 400,000 and 500,000 people being
investigated for security clearances," Piske said.
Regardless of how long it takes, Jesus "Jesse" Sanchez is willing to
wait it out. "This is an organization that's not going to go away,"
the IT specialist said of the NSA. "And I'm looking for a company to
The Holmes High School graduate also doesn't mind having his life
scrutinized. "Because of the way I was raised, I've made some good
choices and I've stayed clear of trouble," he said. "I don't have
anything I'm worried about them finding out."
Still, the path to a security clearance and into an investigative
government organization is stressful and at times embarrassing, said
Lindsay Moran, a former operative with the Central Intelligence
Moran had to undergo three interviews, two types of drug tests, a full
physical with vision and hearing checks, aptitude exams, personality
and psychological assessments and a polygraph exam.
Past drug use, which she writes about in her book "Blowing My Cover:
My Life as a CIA Spy," didn't keep her out of the agency. "When I was
honest about my drug use, it became a nonissue," she said.
But during her investigation, Moran was labeled a sexual deviant and
asked intimate details about her personal life. Government
investigators, whom Piske describes as "not particularly friendly,"
questioned her friends and associates.
"There were a lot of demoralizing experiences," she said. "The only
thing that enabled me to get through it was having a sense of humor."
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